First Wind pushes 20MW Hawaii array

First Wind has filed a request to build a 20MW(ac) PV array in Hawaii, in what would become the largest solar project in the state, and the developer's first outside the Northeast.

The project would see First Wind sell power to Hawaiian Electric at $0.16/kWh, compared to the utility’s recent generating cost of $0.23/kWh.

However, the project still needs approval from the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, in a state where grid constraints are fast becoming a major impediment to further distributed generation.

Boston-based First Wind did not put a timetable on the project.

Although only the 40th most populous state in the US, Hawaii was 6th largest statewide PV market last year, putting up 151MW, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Hawaii’s high power prices and strong solar resources make it ideal for PV. But given its patchwork of relatively small grids, the state is already facing serious headaches in connecting new PV capacity – foreshadowing future challenges in other states.

Earlier this month the US Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative granted Hawaiian Electric a $500,000 grant to develop better energy-management systems capable of dealing with high levels of variable wind and solar generation.

First Wind, which owns nearly 1GW of wind capacity across the US, already operates four wind farms in Hawaii, including the 69MW Kawailoa project on Oahu, Hawaii's most populous island.

Late last year, however, the developer unveiled plans to build a number of utility-scale PV arrays in Massachusetts, and it has since broadened its focus to include the whole of the Northeast, the West, and Hawaii.

The 20MW Mililani solar farm, on Oahu, was originally designed as four separate 5MW PV projects to be built by different developers, but it was consolidated under a single First Wind project.

Another large project, the 12MW Grove Farm array on Kauai island, is currently being built by SolarCity.